Tell us a little about VESL and your role at the company.
Lauren: I am the Programme Manager at VESL, we are a very small charity; it is only myself and another member of staff. We don't have an office, I work from home which enables us to keep our costs down. My role is very varied from recruiting volunteers to go overseas, to training volunteers, to going overseas to visit the projects myself. I love the role, I get to meet amazing people along the way and feel that as a past volunteer I can provide honest information about what it is like to volunteer with VESL and what to expect once overseas.
How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?
Lauren: I finished university in 2011 and decided I wanted to volunteer overseas and do some travelling, I found out about VESL through a Careers Fair at Edinburgh University and volunteered with them in India in September 2011. Before I went to India I wasn't 100% sure about what career path I wanted to take, but I loved the time I spent in India and was very close to extending my stay. When I returned from India, I decided I wanted to get into the charity sector, I completed an internship with a charity called Build Africa and then did an internship with VESL and was a Student Leader (I lead a team of students to India this summer). I applied for the role of Programme Manager before going to India and was ecstatic to get it, I thoroughly enjoy the role, and love how varied it is.
What makes VESL unique?
Lauren: We are a very small charity and take time to get to know each of our volunteers, I think that is really important and is what attracted me to volunteering with VESL in the first place. The fact that I am a past volunteer I feel is also extremely important, as it means I am able to give honest and reliable information about what it is like to volunteer with VESL and what to expect once overseas.
We keep our costs to the minimum possible, which has led us in the past to have to run additional fundraising events. I think the fact that a lot of our past volunteers have volunteered with us again and/or run additional fundraising events for VESL, is a great testament to the work that we do. We work with country managers in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand as well as local NGO's and governments to choose projects that are beneficial to host communities and that are rewarding for our volunteers.
In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer?
Lauren: I think someone that has a real passion for the work we do, who is flexible, adaptable and someone who is willing to 100% per cent get involved in the project, culture and community life. We believe that each of our volunteers is able to make a small but measurable difference at the projects that we send them too, and to do this volunteers need to fully throw themselves into life in country, be open to things changing and be able to use their initiative.
What does the future hold for VESL?
Lauren: VESL will celebrate it's tenth year in 2013 of sending volunteers overseas, so we are planning a reunion event for all of our past volunteers. We are looking at sending our largest ever number of volunteers in 2013 and are looking in Thailand and India to expand the number of projects to meet the increasing demand.